Preview and Staff Predictions: Michigan at Notre Dame

Preview and Staff Predictions: Michigan at Notre Dame

Football

Preview and Staff Predictions: Michigan at Notre Dame

It all starts on Saturday, as Michigan’s 2018 football season will begin in earnest, as the Wolverines travel to South Bend to take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish to kick things off.

WolverinesWire takes a look at what to expect from the Fighting Irish, and the staff gives its predictions afterwards.

Setup

Head coach: Brian Kelly, 9th year

Conference: Independent

Offense: Spread

Defense: 3-4


Series record: 24-17-1

Last meeting: Notre Dame 31-0 (2014)

2017 ND record: 10-3


The last time these two rivals met was set to be the last in the storied series, with Fighting Irish AD Jack Swarbrick canceling the series before the game. The series is back on, at least for two games, and Michigan will seek to avenge its embarrassing 31-0 loss the last time the two foes faced off at Notre Dame Stadium, although the cast of characters is completely different this time around.

Offense

brandon wimbush notre dame

Photo: Matt Stamey | USA Today

In 2017, Notre Dame had the nation’s 27th-best offense, racking up 448.2 yards-per-game. Those gaudy numbers came at the behest of an elite rushing attack, averaging 269.31 yards-per-game on the ground, good for 7th in the nation.

Rushing

The Fighting Irish had a multi-faceted attack, with running back John Adams leading the charge with 206 carries for 1,430 yards and 9 touchdowns. Quarterback Brandon Wimbush — who was just named the starter for the Michigan game — did damage with his legs, as well — racking up 803 yards on the ground with 14 rushing touchdowns. Adams is now gone, having signed as an undrafted free agent with the Philadelphia Eagles. Deon McIntosh was the team’s third leading rusher in 2017, with 65 carries for 368 yards and 5 touchdowns, but he left the program, having enrolled at East Mississippi Junior College, best known from the Netflix series, Last Chance U. Fourth in 2017 was tailback Dexter Williams, but it is expected that he will be suspended for the game, though not known for certain.

That leaves third-year tailback Tony Jones Jr. atop the depth chart, and he did well in limited carries a year ago, accumulating 232 yards on 44 carries with 4 touchdowns.

Passing

As far as the passing offense is concerned, in 2017, Notre Dame didn’t fare much better than Michigan, coming in with the nation’s 103rd-rated attack (Michigan was 111th). Wimbush completed less than 50% of his passes (49.3%) and was benched in the Citrus Bowl in favor of backup Ian Book, who was a 61.3% passer last year. The word coming out of South Bend is that Wimbush wasn’t fully healthy, but we won’t know for sure.

Notre Dame doesn’t return its top receiver from 2017 in Equanimeous St. Brown, who left for the NFL, and its third-best receiver Kevin Stepherson was dismissed from the team in mid-January. However, Chase Claypool, the Canadian phenom is expected to start opposite Miles Boykin, and the two big-bodied receivers split for a combined 41 receptions for 655 yards and 4 touchdowns total in 2017. Chris Finke or Michael Young will get action in the slot.

The biggest losses for the offense, however, come on the left side of the line where All-American LT Mike McGlinchey was a the 9th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft and fellow All-American Quenton Nelson was the 6th pick overall. The expectation is that last year’s right tackle, third-year OL Tommy Kraemer will move inside to guard, and that second-year lineman Robert Hainsey will take over at right tackle, with third-year Liam Eichenberg getting the nod at left tackle. The interior will be quite experienced, but it will be a challenge for the tackles to contend with Michigan’s elite defensive ends.

Senior tight end Alizé Mack returns, and should be a matchup problem, given his experience and 6-foot-4 frame. He pulled in 19 receptions for 166 yards and a touchdown a year ago.

Strengths: Interior offensive line, tight end, quarterback rushing

Weaknesses: Quarterback passing, tackle positions

Unknown: Running backs, wide receivers

Defense

Matt Cashore | USA Today

Notre Dame should be very good on defense, returning the entire defensive line from a year ago, linebackers Drue Tranquill and Te’Von Coney and three of the four defensive backs. The Fighting Irish was 46th in the nation in 2017 in total defense, allowing 362 yards-per-game.

Starting with the passing defense, ND had the nation’s 53rd-best, giving up 214.7 yards-per-game through the air. Cornerback Julian Love is the standout there, with 68 tackles, 3 interceptions (two returned for touchdowns), 1.5 tackles for loss and an astounding 20 passes broken up — second-best in all of college football, behind Wisconsin’s Nick Nelson — and 23 passes defended — also second, behind only Iowa’s Josh Jackson. Former Michigan commit Shaun Crawford plays the other side of the field, and managed 32 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1.5 sacks and 5 passes defended. Free safety Nick Coleman also returns, and he had 44 tackles last season. The newcomer in the defensive backfield is Alohi Gilman who sat out in 2017 after transferring from Navy — where he started his freshman season and was the Midshipmen’s second-best tackler with 76, had 5 tackles for loss and 5 passes broken up. This unit should be better than it was a year ago.

Moving forward, Te’Von Coney and Drue Tranquill return, and they had stellar production a year ago. Coney led the team with 116 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and was third on the team with 3 sacks. Tranquill was third on the team with 85 tackles, second with 10.5 tackles for loss and added 1.5 sacks and an interception. Asmar Bilal should get the nod at BUCK linebacker, and he has experience, though wasn’t a starter last year. He had 18 tackles a year ago.

The strength of the Notre Dame defense, however, is the defensive front, where all four starters from a year ago return. The Fighting Irish were 51st in the nation in run defense, allowing only 154.46 yards on the ground per game. Interior tackle Jerry Tillery was the most productive a year ago with 56 tackles, 9 tackles for loss and a team-leading 4.5 sacks. Jonathan Bonner returns as nose tackle, and he had 30 tackles, 9 tackles for loss and 2 sacks in 2017. The ends both have familiarity with Michigan as they’re both Michigan natives. Both in their third-years, Daelin Hayes cut his teeth at Ann Arbor (MI) Skyline whereas Khalid Kareem played high school ball at Farmington Hills (MI) Harrison. They combined for 6 sacks and 12 tackles for loss in 2017.

The defense as a whole was quite good at getting off the field on third down, only allowing the opposing offenses to convert 35% of the time — good for 37th nationally. However, Notre Dame was 84th nationally in allowing plays over 10 yards from scrimmage, middle of the pack at 59th in plays over 20 yards, and elite at disallowing plays over 30 yards. (Conversely, Michigan was ranked 5th nationally in disallowing plays 10 yards-plus, but got worse at plays between 20-30 yards, ranked 81st nationally).

Strengths: Almost everything

Weaknesses: Allowing plays between 10-20 yards, sacks.

Unknown: Tackles for loss

Special Teams

Notre Dame returns place kicker Justin Yoon who made 14 of his 18 attempts in 2017, and all 55 of his point after touchdown attempts. All four of his misses a year ago were from 40 yards-plus. This will be his fourth year.

Senior Tyler Newsome also returns as the team’s punter, and he helped Notre Dame by kicking for an average of 43 yards-per-punt. The Fighting Irish were 35th in punting average a year ago.

The Irish did lose their kick returner, C.J. Sanders, who transferred to SMU (so Michigan will see him Week Three), so the onus should fall on Michael Young and Tony Jones, who each had one 18 yards total a year ago. Slot receiver Chris Finke will return as the team’s punt returner. He had 24 returns for an average of 6.5 yards per punt. Notre Dame was 84th in that metric a year ago.

Strengths: Kickoffs, PAT, punting, field goals under 40 yards

Weaknesses: Field goals over 40 yards, punt returns

Unknown: Kick returns

Game Predictions

Isaiah Hole

Notre Dame is a very good team across the board, and returns a ton of talent on the defensive side of the ball, but there’s a ton of questions on the offensive side. If you’re the Fighting Irish, this is not the matchup you want to go up against if you have questions offensively. The Wolverines return 9 of 2017’s starters, and shouldn’t just be good defensively — they should be elite. Losing the two All-Americans on the offensive line is not a good thing for Notre Dame against Michigan’s defensive front.

Michigan reportedly will have a “tweaked” offense, with the best quarterback that Jim Harbaugh has had in Ann Arbor to date. The big question is if he can come in and be that difference maker in Week One (remember, it took Jake Rudock half a season to get there). Overall, I think Michigan will have the stronger defense, and though the offense is unproven, I predict that the offseason revamping will go a long way to having a better offense. While Notre Dame should have an advantage on special teams, it won’t be enough. Michigan rolls by double digits.

Offensive MVP: Shea Patterson (honorable mention to the offensive line)

Defensive MVP: Khaleke Hudson

Bold prediction: Michigan holds Notre Dame to its worst rushing output since only accumulating 55 yards in Week Two of 2017 against Georgia.

Final score: MICHIGAN 24 – Notre Dame 10

Evan Petzold

For the first time in a long time, Michigan has quarterback reliability. With Shea Patterson’s presence against Notre Dame in South Bend, the Wolverines will manage to secure a victory. The main struggle, especially early on, will be getting Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins and Oliver Martin on the same page as Patterson. Expect a few mistakes, but nothing that time will not fix throughout the game.

Looking at the defensive side of the ball, it’s going to be as good as advertised for the third-straight season. Many, including defensive coordinator Don Brown, is expecting greatness against Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush. Having a solid defensive line and linebacker core, the Wolverines should not have a problem lighting up the Fighting Irish.

Offensive MVP: Shea Patterson

Defensive MVP: Devin Bush Jr.

Bold prediction: Tru Wilson scores first-career touchdown.

Final score: MICHIGAN 35 – Notre Dame 24

Brandon Knapp

Michigan and Notre Dame renew their rivalry in what will be another instant classic, instead of the 2014 whopping Michigan received. Expect this game to be close. While Notre Dame’s defense was only ranked 46th in the NCAA last year, Michigan has a new quarterback in Shea Patterson, so expect some kind of growing pains with the new quarterback even against this defense.

For the defense of Michigan expect them to exploit Notre Dame losing two starting offensive lineman to the NFL and with Michigan possibly having the best defensive line in the country, it could be a long day for Notre Dame’s Brandon Wimbush and the passing game.

Offensive MVP: Karan Higdon

Defensive MVP: Chase Winovich

Bold prediction: Nico Collins has a 100-yard receiving game.

Final score: MICHIGAN 24 – Notre Dame 17

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